Students at the Australian National University were shocked by the news today that senior management of the university had implemented sweeping changes to the operation of accommodation as of late Friday afternoon (22nd August). These changes include extending the deadline of the accommodation guarantee, a centralised application system for incoming students, new criteria to reduce the number of returning residents, and a 5% increase in fees for catered residences and a 7% increase in fees for self-catered residences respectively. Such changes threaten to derail efforts to improve residential and campus safety, further disadvantage students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and fundamentally alter the campus of the ANU.

The ANU Interhall Council endorses a boycott of Open Day this Saturday, 30th August unless these unjust changes are brought before the relevant parties for consultation.

The IHC is a body comprised of the each residence’s president as well as the president of the ANU Student Association, Cameron Wilson. On Monday 25th August, the IHC met with Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience, Richard Baker at 7:30am. We were informed that the decisions had been made and they were not open for discussion. These decisions had not gone through consultation with the various heads of residence. Ultimately, our enquires were met with unsatisfactory answers and the argument that ‘the rental market is good in Canberra right now’.

We have four key areas of serious concern:

  1. The lack of consultation. As clearly outlined above, there was no consultation process behind changes which propose to dramatically alter the practical operation of accommodation and fabric of the student community at ANU. These changes affect the community that about 4 000 students call home. As the representatives of these students the IHC welcomes a return to full and frank consultation. We wish to reach a conclusion which represents a reasonable balance between necessary changes and the interests of our on campus students, we are the thought leaders after all
  1. Fee increases. The proposed fee increases will serve to disadvantage students and have not been justified. In 2012 the IHC completed a survey of student financial health, this survey highlighted that some students were left with only about $50 per week for living costs. Yet the university expects students to absorb a price hike well above what would be reasonably or legally acceptable off campus. Students living on campus at the ANU are parties to occupancy agreements and are not protected by the relevant tenancy law; if they were, a price hike of more than 20% above Consumer Price Index would be considered according to the ACT’s Residential Tenancies Act – the CPI for housing is currently 0.5%. It has been claimed by Hughes-Warrington and Baker that these changes will benefit students from low SES backgrounds, while we agree the extended deadline will it is disingenuous to aid potential students on one hand while slugging them with a fee hike with the other
  1. Changes to residential cultures. Currently the residences all possess their own unique cultures, it is perhaps the single greatest motivator for many students who elect to come to the ANU. These changes will introduce a central allocation system based on a ballot; potential student submit a first preference, but will not have to complete applications explaining how they would seek to contribute to their community or expressing why they would suit that community. They will receive no explanation for their acceptance or rejection which may be based on demographic balances. Cultures developed over the history of our university may simply be wound up over the course of a few short years, harming alumni relations and interest from potential students. The IHC wants to have a say in developing a system which provides residences with transparent criteria for accepting students which encourage increasing diversity but retain applications. Residences would have to ensure diverse communities but could operate with discretion to select those students who will engage with and grow their individual culture
  1. Heavily limiting returners. Baker informed us that the changes intend to limit the number of returning students, this will be implemented incrementally but with a stated goal that returners will eventually account for only 50% of a residence’s population each year. The IHC has been informed that there will be a criteria for residences to make this decision but no potential examples have at this time been supplied. We believe returners are the bedrock of a community, they are the senior residents, residential advisors, committee members, and the figureheads of community. They are the members of community experienced in the issues which new school-leavers face and the solutions to these, they are the members of the community which dedicate themselves to student life, curb unacceptable and dangerous behaviours, and engage in improving residential as well as campus safety. Again, the IHC wants to work with the ANU to reach a reasonable solution

The IHC does not want to be proposing this boycott, but a lack of consultation has forced it upon us. Throughout 2014 we have always communicated, consulted, and co-operated with the decision makers at the ANU to bring about the best possible decisions. We are launching a campaign entitled Why Not Just to raise awareness of the boycott and answer the student voices the ANU has ignored. Unfortunately this time senior management has seen it fit to ignore and disenfranchise the voices of the thought leaders.

Samuel Guthrie,
President of the UniLodge@ANU Residents’ Committee,
Signed on behalf of the Interhall Council.

Why not just

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